August 11, 2004

How "Six Feet Under" is "American Beauty 2."

Dale Peck explains how Alan Ball continued the characters from his "American Beauty" screenplay to his "Six Feet Under" series:
[T]he project that followed American Beauty, the HBO series Six Feet Under, is essentially a character-by-character recreation of the movie’s key players. Its family is composed of figures culled from the three households in American Beauty: Allison Janney’s automaton housewife reappears in Frances Conroy’s Ruth Fisher; Kevin Spacey’s selfishly distant father shows up in Richard Jenkin’s Nathaniel Fisher; Wes Bentley’s drifter ’n’ dreamer has grown up to become Peter Krause’s Nate Fisher Jr.; Thora Birch’s ironic-but-wants-to-be-earnest teenager is the mirror image of Lauren Ambrose’s Claire Fisher; and the two Jims have moved into the main house in the form of Michael C. Hall’s David Fisher. Mr. Ball’s beloved plastic bag is back, too, this time filled by an endless series of corpses (there’s more than a little poignancy to this, since the bag that was Ball’s inspiration for his movie was blowing next to the World Trade Center).
Brilliant observation! Now this raises the question of what Ball is really saying about homosexuality in "Six Feet Under," considering the role it played in "American Beauty" (read the article for a reminder of the way homosexuality was treated in AB). Peck analyzes the kidnapping episode of "Six Feet Under" (which many fans of the show hated--and I discussed here). Here's just a part of Peck's great analysis:
Throughout this needless exercise in sadism, the cast and crew of Six Feet Under do their job well. ... But not even Michael C. Hall’s bravura performance—certainly the best of his four years on the show—can distract us from the inexplicable cruelty of what is actually happening. Desire is punished, and the punishment is eroticized, and the erotic, as it always does, seeks its final release in death. This is where gay desire seems always to lead in Alan Ball’s stories: to the innocuous invisibility of "partners" and the two Jims, or to the invisibility of annihilation; somewhere you get the feeling that the two states are indistinguishable.

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